Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2015.8

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of over 900 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood. YMMV.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) — 6/10

Willem Dafoe is Jesus, Barbara Hershey Mary Magdalene and Harvey Keitel is Judas. Martin Scorcese directed this retelling of the story of the life of Jesus, based on the novel of the same name. It’s heavily dialogue-driven with a strong focus on religious philosophy, naturally. I like that the dialogue is quite modern and delivered in modern accents. The scene where Mary Magdalene is dragged out for stoning reminded me strongly of a very similar scene in Malèna where Monica Belluci is shorn by her fellow villagers. In that case, Malèna was accused of laying with the enemy; Magdalene is actually accused not of prostitution but of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus tries to find his path and chats with various people and animals—e.g. a talking cobra (or asp?). This movie has slightly better production values, but in its material and surreality, it’s not much different than the Japanese Guzo or the Mexican El Topo. Hell, it’s even got a talking lion in it, with a New York City accent.

This movie is really, really long—over three hours. It just retells the story of Jesus with some minor and some major variations, but mostly hitting the highlights we’ve all heard about. He multiplies fish and loaves, makes wine from water, kicks money-changer ass, etc. etc.

If you’re not religious and broadly familiar with the Christian mythology, this film is utterly uncontroversial—except maybe for all of the miracles being so real (and then again, maybe not). When Jesus changes water into wine, he’s a total dick about it, as only Willem Dafoe could do. Also, Jesus kicks a ton of ass in this movie, hulking out on the money-changers, of course, but also on a lot of other scenery.

It’s a well-made movie, but the dialogue, though more modernized, is still tedious. Mostly because the story of Jesus kinda sucks and there’s a lot of whining about the meanness of God followed by the adoration of God followed by setting rules for God. It goes off the beaten path, at the end, with the “temptation” being that Jesus is given the chance to not be the savior and spare himself. Judas is portrayed as the strong one who is willing to betray Jesus so that he can fulfill his destiny, then shows up at Jesus’s deathbed to accuse him of betraying this goal.

Although I’m not familiar at all with the Gospels[1], I saw the ending coming a mile away—that the temptress angel was, of course, Satan—and expected for twenty minutes for Jesus to close his eyes at some point and wake back up on the cross. And lo it was done. I definitely didn’t predict that Dafoe would reënact his Platoon pose, though. The soundtrack by Peter Gabriel is great. I’m glad I finally saw it, the acting is good, but I can’t recommend it.

Babette’s Feast (1987) — 7/10

This is a melancholy if relatively pretty film about two daughters living in Jutland (DK) with their stern, minister father. We learn their story via a narrator with interspersed dialogue (mostly pious singing). Each of the daughters had a chance at love, but their father quashed it both times, the soldier out of hand, and the opera singer after he sings lascivious songs with the daughter.

It is a stark and lifeless existence. Though they seem filled with religious fervor and do small, good deeds for the other villagers, nothing is created or gained and they simply go through the same daily motions without adding or removing from the world. (Don’t we all, though?) The opera singer was entirely too full of life for the world of Jutland. The daughter breaks off the singing lessons herself because she cannot resist his wiles.

Years later, the opera singer exhorts the sisters to retain the services of a family friend, Babette. They take her on as servant and cook for over a dozen years. When she wins the French lottery, she offers to cook them and their remaining congregation a proper French feast for the 100th anniversary of the birth of their father, the patron saint of the Jutland village.

The dinner is to be properly French with live quail and a live turtle hissing on the counter in the kitchen, terrifying the sisters into thinking she’s preparing a witch’s meal. The congregation is quick to play along when the sister relates her fears to them—and they all build each other up into a righteous terror of the French meal. And right they are to be terrified: in classic French style, there’s one of everything that once walked on legs looking with glazed, crossed eyes from Babette’s pots and pans.

Babette makes such a tremendous effort, but the pious fuddy-duddies can at first talk only of how they will ignore the taste of the food and drink—that the flavor doesn’t even matter. This is a natural attitude to take when all of your food is one form of porridge or another. When someone is making an effort, though, your pious ass could perhaps not be an asshole.

Thankfully, though, the first taste of the Amontillado pairing with the turtle soup brings tears to the French general’s eyes. The meal looks exquisite. Best name for a dish: quail in sarcophagus. The film is a bit slow in the first half, but well-made and reminiscent of other “big meal” movies, like a favorite of mine Big Night. As in that film, there is an undercurrent of love and missed opportunities and forgiveness.

It takes a tremendous suspension of belief that such a meal could be cooked in that kitchen in that hut, but suspend it I did because it was so enjoyable watching Babette prepare it. And how was she able to cook such a fabulous meal? She used to be the head chef at the Cafè Anglais—and spent all FF10,000 that she won in the lottery to prepare that single meal. I also have no idea how they weren’t all plastered after all of those wine pairings with refills.

Worth seeing it for the meal. Saw it in the original Danish and French, with English subtitles.

Schindler’s List (1993) — 8/10

This is a black-and-white film about the role that Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) played in Krakau in the late 1930s. While he originally had only thoughts of making money by employing Jews in his factory, his sympathies increasingly lay with his workers as he saw the predations of the Nazis. In particular, Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, is a foppish, nervous, deeply insecure and overwhelmingly cruel man who comes to be in charge of the work camp near Schindler’s factory.

Stephen Spielberg directs and his imprimatur is clear in the shot selection and camera work. The film shows the casual cruelty and indifference to Jewish life of the soldiers, while highlighting mostly ineffectual and Sisyphic moments of kindness on the part of sympathizers or doctors (e.g. in a hospital where patients to whom nurses had just given medicine are seconds later gunned down). Ben Kingsley is masterful, as usual, as Itzhak Stern.

I do have to wonder how much of this is a flight of Hollywood fancy by a Jewish director and how much is based in fact. I’m thinking of the little boy who tries to whistle down an old Jewish lady and then decides not to when he sees it’s his friend’s mother. Or how casually the Nazis just shoot people in the head. I understand that the trains delivered millions to their deaths in camps, but that level of processing has a certain technocratic “out of my hands” logic to it; shooting someone in the head from inches away is a much more visceral act and a completely different level of cruelty.

I do not say that this film depicts it incorrectly, only that it smells of a promulgated myth that no-one allows themselves to challenge. In a way, it almost absolves humanity because it depicts the enemy as such clear monsters that they barely even belong to the species anymore. Such an interpretation is, in many ways, more comforting than the probable truth: that anyone could do this to anyone else, with only the slightest provocation. Hell, it happens all the time still. I do not say that the film exaggerates the acts, only that the over-the-top enthusiasm of the Germans is perhaps a bit overdone. Perhaps not, I have never been in a war zone, but have heard stories of overarching enthusiasm in our similar national horror stories, like My Lai and Fallujah, to name only a very few. Also Chris Hedges reporting in his book War is a Force that Gives us Meaning.

The humiliation in the camp, the petty cruelties, the rape, the nude marches, the subjugation, the slavery? All believable. It requires a different level of commitment than cold-blooded murder. On the other hand, if you don’t consider the creature before you to be a human, then it’s not murder, is it? I am just careful of propaganda—of all kinds.

Schindler takes the fight to Goeth by saying that his unwarranted and unconscionable killing is “bad for business”. He does not even try arguing that it’s morally wrong, because even had he himself wholeheartedly believed that (which wasn’t clear), it would have been an utter waste of time with Goeth, who would certainly not have been receptive to a moral argument. Lovely scenes between the two.

The eponymous list refers to a list of workers that Schindler makes to save, to send elsewhere than Auschwitz. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work—the paperwork goes missing and the workers on his list never show up. He chases them down and bluffs his way through getting his workers back, including children whose “delicate fingers polish 45mm shell casings”. At his factory, he is still running a work camp, but he forbids “summary executions” and the German soldiers have to follow his orders. Schindler then does everything in his power to make sure not a single viable shell is ever produced in his factory. Again, not sure of the historical veracity—the crawl at the end claims it’s true—but a lovely story.

Still and all, an incredibly well-made film, well-acted, well-shot. It’s over 3 hours long but doesn’t feel overlong, except perhaps the last 10 minutes—in which modern-day descendants of Schindler’s workers visit his grave—which felt tacked on. Recommended.

Aces High (1976) — 6/10

This is a British movie about the Royal Air Force in WWI, when they still flew with bi-planes and had a horrendous casualty rate. The pilots are stationed in France and are led by Gresham (Malcolm McDowell) and Sinclair (Christopher Plummer), both of whom are pretty much alcoholics. Another pilot is Crawford, who fakes suffering from neuralgia because he’s afraid to go up. Croft is the new recruit with almost no flight time and an eager attitude driven by worship of Gresham.

¼ of the way in and there is no sign of a woman in this movie. The men are very British, with a stiff upper lip and silly songs. The feel of the base is that it is an extension of the boarding schools from which they all presumably came. There are more long-lashed, meaningful looks than usual. The film is decidedly anti-war. At one point, they ride out to the front and see unbelievable destruction on the ground, the most poignant of which is a long line of soldiers with head injuries and their eyes bound, hand on the shoulder of the man in front, blindly threading their way through a noxious war zone.[2]

Croft is attacked on his first sortie. He doesn’t return with Gresham, not because he’s shot down, but because he gets lost. This is a lovely detail of WWI flying—no radar, no GPS, nothing but a crude map and your own sparse knowledge of the landmarks in the area where you’d just been stationed the day before. On this mission, Gresham shoots down a Hun and captures him. They bring him back to camp, but don’t make him a prisoner—instead, he’s invited in almost as a guest of honor, because he’s really very much like them. They roister and revel long into the night.

Croft learns quickly the perils of war when his commander Sinclair is shot dead in the gunner’s seat behind him on his very next mission. To distract themselves, the officers go to a French nightclub and revel some more. The first women of the movie appear here, and they’re all whores. Fear not, though, because they’re decent-looking enough that “I won’t have to force myself” as one of the officers puts it. It is unclear how this scene is intended. Is it a condemnation of the deep-seated misogyny of the time, one that acknowledges women only as accoutrements for soldiers? Or is it just including it for accuracy with no judgment? Or is it glorifying it?

This was to be Croft’s last glorious night out as he dies on his next mission when he collides with a Hun Aircraft. That would be the third long flight sequence of the movie. Malcom McDowell and Christopher Plummer are good, as always. Not recommended, though.

The Producers (1967) — 9/10

This farce is about a Broadway producer, Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his accountant, Leo Blum (Gene Wilder). They team up to deliberately put on a flop to cheat investors out of millions. The movie is almost 50 years old and yet it’s timeless. Mostel is manic, over-the-top and wonderful. Wilder is, as always, a combination of zany and eerily reserved, wide-eyed and innocent. If the word “zany” had not existed, it would have to have been invented to describe this movie. Watching it now, it’s obvious how they made a musical out of it: it has no musical numbers in the first half, but the scenes could so easily be transformed to the musical stage.

In case you don’t know the plot, the pair find a musical that is guaranteed to flop, Springtime for Hitler, a gay romp in WWII Germany, written by Franz Liebkind, who wears a German war helmet, keeps pigeons, sings American patriotic songs to dispel rumors—“Oh beootiful für spaschious skies”—and who is even farther off his rocker than either Blum or Bialystock.

The costumes and lyrics of this show are divine: one lady walks out covered only in Bretzels, another only in liters of beer and foam. All the while, they’re singing the chorus “Springtime for Hitler in Germany … winter for Poland and France … we’re marching to a faster pace….look out, here comes the master race.” and Brooks himself shows up as a stormtrooper, crowing “Don’t be stupid, be a smartie, come and join the Nazi party.” And then the showgirls start goose-stepping across the stage, “goose-steps are new steps TODAY!”

The movie was written by Mel Brooks in 1967, so it’s hilarious, but women have few roles other than decoration (Ulla) or gullible sacks of money (countless old ladies). Or as a backup band for LSD, the actor destined to play Hitler, who, like the entire musical, is so bad he’s good. This will prove to be the end of their plan, as it will not only fail to fail, but it will fail to fail spectacularly enough. Their problem with success is, of course, that they’ve sold 25,000% of the profits to various investors.

Before Trey Parker and Matt Stone—of South Park and Book of Mormon fame—there was Mel Brooks, tearing Broadway a new one. And then Broadway turned around and made his joke of an idea into one of the greatest successes ever.

I’d seen this movie before, almost 2 decades ago, at the hearty recommendation of a good friend in New York[3] and remembered having enjoyed it immensely. I was not disappointed in rewatching. Highly recommended.

Mud (2012) — 6/10

Mud introduces himself like this:

“You can call me a hobo, ‘cause a hobo works fer a livin’ and you can call me homeless, well, ‘cause that’s what I am temporarily, but you call me a bum again and I’m gonna have to teach you somethin’ ‘bout respect that your daddy never did.”

Matthew McConaughey plays Mud and the Reese Witherspoon plays his love interest, Juniper. He’s hiding out on an island, from the law and from the family of a man he killed supposedly to protect the honor of his girl. We see soon enough that the story that Mud tells is only part of the truth, but the boys are much more likely to believe his version because the world tells them far less satisfying stories.

All parties have ulterior motives, except perhaps the two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, played really, really well by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. Life on the river is hard and stories are the only way people have of escaping the day-to-day drudgery. It’s a little trite that Ellis’s life starts to imitate Mud’s. Who’s the psycho? Who’s the slut? A little of both? Stories are more important than reality, and stories are subjective. It’s a decent flick, but relatively predictable coming-of-age stories aren’t really my thing. Recommended if that is your thing or if you’re a McConaughey fan.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 (2013) — 8/10

Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) in an alley on his way back from grocery shopping. She lies unconscious, in a light snowfall, a clear victim of a beating. He takes her home after she refuses to allow him to call an ambulance or the police. She begins telling the story of how she ended up there, starting from when she was two years old and first discovered she was a nymphomaniac.

Seligman interrupts her constantly to draw parallels between her hunting sexual partners as a young girl and fly-fishing. He’s absolutely relentless about this, despite her clear impatience to continue her lascivious story. The story is rendered less lascivious because the filming of the encounters is less erotic and stimulating and more clinical. especially when she rapes the older man on the train (he distinctly said “please don’t”).

Her story continues as she re-meets her first lover, Jerôme (Shia LeBeouf) as her boss in her first job, falling in love with him. He’s an insecure jerk who delights in humiliating and dominating her, even as she makes her way through all of his co-workers after having resisted his initial advances.

At this point, though Charlotte Gainsbourg is re-telling the story, Joe is played by Stacy Martin as a younger girl—this was her first role as an actress. Her casting is probably also deliberate—she’s pretty, but not really sexy and also not really vivacious, more quiet and contemplative and depressive. Instead her allure comprises one characteristic: her low bar for fucking other people.

This is likely von Trier’s condemnation of males, a way of implicitly saying that they’ll pretty much fuck anything with a heartbeat, even someone who makes Shelley Duvall look like Anna Nicole Smith. She doesn’t act or move in a sexy way, even walking very stolidly and deliberately. The story of her presence at her father’s painful and nearly psychotic death just drives home how her nymphomania is an obsession, nothing to do with allure or enticement—the film makes perfectly clear that sex would be the furthest thing from the mind of a non-afflicted person.

Uma Thurman stands out as the passive-aggressive, overly understanding Mrs. H., the wife of one of her more clingy lovers (H: “Would it be all right if I showed the children the whoring bed? (to the children) We need to see it! Let’s go see Daddy’s favorite place!”) She also has some wonderful and lengthier dialogue, delivered in a helluva performance. Mrs. H. finally gets angry, but she blames Joe rather than her idiotic husband, who absolutely couldn’t take a hint and was puppy-dog in love with a young girl who is not his wife.

Lars von Trier wrote and directed; the movie is slow and largely a dialogue between two clever-talking people—Seligman is particularly observant and intellectual, with no judgment, and Joe is also very self-aware, though with clear and obviously intentional gaps in her knowledge—but it’s wonderfully shot and told. And because it’s von Trier, there’s an incredible attention to detail, many small clues that lead I-don’t-know-where. The titles and text in street and building photos are in German (e.g. O.P. Gang 2 in the hospital) and the intro and credits music is by Rammstein but she speaks English with a British accent and her childhood friend’s (B) accent morphs over time from more Germanic/Swedish-accented to bog-standard British. They ride a train where the conductor demands pounds for a ticket. But her father (Christian Slater) also has a meandering accent that eventually settles on American. She uses a Ticonderoga pencil to make notes at one point—do they even have those in Britain?

Skarsgård is a wonderful interlocutor, standing outside of the miasma of passion and nymphomania. His recitation from the The Fall of the House of Usher is spine-tingling[4]….I wanted him to continue with the rest of the book.

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”

The end of the story introduced with Poe almost gets Seligman but he rallies with “it’s extremely common to react sexually in a crisis”, which is technically true. He’s extremely well-read and it adds a richness to his ad-hoc diagnoses. I could listen to him all day. I am still trying to figure out why his rooms are so run-down. Recommended.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (2013) — 9/10

We pick up where we left off in Volume 1, with Joe relating the story of how her “cunt went numb” and Seligman relating Zeno’s paradox to her and she finally calling him out on his distance and lack of lust about her story. He reveals that he is asexual and a virgin, which goes a long way toward explaining why he doesn’t judge her as much as she’s grown accustomed to being judged for her story.

She continues her story after an interlude wherein he describes the western church (suffering) and the eastern church (happiness). Her next chapter is about traveling “from East to West”—from a world of happiness to suffering.

She moves in with Jerôme and they have a child together. He cannot satisfy her and makes a lovely analogy to buying a tiger, which must be fed properly and that he might, in fact, need some help feeding it. Which she leaps to with gusto, with another lovely visual analogy in the street as she feigns a car breakdown and all of her lovers gather in a crowd of tomcats.

Shia LeBoeuf as Jerôme is very, very good, easily outacting the girl who plays the young Joe. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) is also extremely good as K, the sadist who takes on Joe as a client, and allows no safe words (yeah, right) and dispenses sadism without sex, no discussions. He’s a right bastard, but that’s what she’s looking for. The filming is so well-done and K’s act so convincing that I’m almost surprised when we’re allowed to see what happens behind the frosted-glass doors.

K is exceedingly polite in his preparations, but in control of every aspect.[5] At the end of their second session—the first with actual sadism—she says “Thank you,” and he replies, “You’re very welcome.” in all sincerity. Stripped of judgment, this is a transaction between equals, each of whom gets pleasure. Gainesbourg is, as usual, fantastic. She struggles with her addiction but loses, walking out on Jerôme and Marcel (her son) on Christmas to go to K for the beating of her life (the destruction is pitiless and graphic), which allows her to once again experience joy.

After she recounts a three-way with two African brothers, with whom she shared no language, she is chided by Seligman for using the word “negro”. She responds,

Joe: Well, I beg you pardon, but in my circles, it has always been a mark of honor to call a spade a spade. Each time a word becomes prohibited, you remove a stone from the democratic foundation. Society demonstrates its impotence in the face of a concrete problem by removing words from the language. The book-burners have got nothing on modern society.

Seligman: I think society would claim that political correctness is a very precise expression of democratic concern for minorities.

Joe: And I would say that society is too cowardly for the people in it, who, in my opinion, are too stupid for democracy.

Seligman: I understand your point but I totally disagree. I have no doubt in the human qualities.

Joe: The human qualities can be expressed in one word: hypocrisy. We elevate those who say “right” but mean “wrong” and mock those who say “wrong” but mean “right”. Society is based on hate; it should be based on forgiveness. Hatred is rudimentary. One should be able to forgive one’s executioner.

Anyone who sees the title and possibly some scenes and thinks they’ll have a purely titillating film doesn’t know this director.[6] The movies are more like a Socratic dialogue between Joe and Seligman, with interludes and depictions from her past. Skarsgård really deserves credit for a wonderfully acted role.

The next segment “The Mirror” deals with Joe’s attempt to get an abortion legally, in which the doctor and psychologist are exceedingly patronizing and treat her as if she’s incapable of making her own decision about her own body. That is, when she says that the most important thing to her right now is to have an abortion, the psychologist responds that “yes. well, that’s what we’re trying to determine together.”.

Amazing that a woman needs the approval of complete strangers in order to have a voluntary medical procedure. When she asks about the father, Joe answers “Ok, what would you like me to say about the father in order for me to be able to obtain an abortion? That I love him? Or that I don’t love him? Or that I don’t know him because I fuck tons of men?” The ensuing at-home, DIY abortion is harrowing and a clear condemnation on von Trier’s part of the patronizing attitude toward women’s health in supposedly civilized Western countries (looking at you, USA and possibly UK).[7]

In the Socratic tradition, Seligman and Joe discuss the abortion afterward. When he says that he has no comment because he’s a man, she responds,

“Those are two very interesting points of view. First you say that, as a man, you can’t have feelings with regard to abortion. Well, that’s a bit like saying that I could never understand the feeling of victims of earthquakes because they were Chinese. I thought that empathy was the foundation of all humanism. It is very convenient for men to leave all that abortion stuff to women. That way, they don’t have to deal with all the guilt and all the small stuff.”

In response, Seligman makes an eloquent argument for eliding details of the ugliness of abortions, but in the end it’s an argument for censorship.

“The really serious, serious abortions, the ones that save lives, far from our social spheres…you can’t endanger them, just because you provocatively insist on showing all of the gory details. Consider all of the millions of oppressed women, the victims of rape, incest, hunger, all those who maybe thanks to an abortion have gained a new life, to maybe have saved a child from starving to death. You can’t harm them, just because of a principle of openness.”

She drops the mic on her self-help group, bidding adieu to the group leader with “That empathy you claim is a lie, because all you are is society’s morality police, whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the Earth so that the bourgeoisie won’t feel sick.”

When she talks of her career as a loan-shark enforcer, she recounts a visit to a repressed pedophile, who didn’t even know he was one himself.

Seligman: You did what?
Joe: I gave him a blowjob.
Seligman: Why? That pig?
Joe: I took pity on him.
Seligman: Pity?
Joe: Yes. I had just destroyed his life. Nobody knew his secret, most probably not even himself. He sat there with the shame. I suppose I sucked him off as a kind of apology.
Seligman: That’s unbelievable.
Joe: Listen to me: this is a man who’d succeeded in repressing his own desire—who had never before given into it, right up until I forced it out of him. He had lived a life full of denial and had never hurt a soul.
Seligman: No. No matter how much I try, I can’t find anything laudable in paedophilia.
Joe: That’s because you think about the perhaps 5% who actually hurt children. The remaining 95% never live out their fantasies. Think about their suffering. Sexuality is the strongest force in human beings. To be born with a forbidden sexuality must be agonizing. The paedophile who manages to get through life with the shame of his desire while never acting on it deserves a bloody medal.
Seligman: (long pause) The writer Thomas Mann said somewhere that a temptation resisted is not a sin, but a test of virtue.

The final chapter feels the most trite and clichéed, nearly veering to come back around to the beginning, five hours ago. Perhaps it’s to show how Joe is rewarded for her final concession to sentimentality in her love for her protegé, aptly named P. Or perhaps as punishment for her sentimentality for Jerôme and her final capitulation to jealousy. The ending is no-holds-barred—the filming of Jerôme’s revenge…and P, instead of helping Joe, shows her allegiance to Jerõme—and Joe’s lifestyle—instead. That scene makes anything in Dogville look like Sesame Street.

The story ends there, more or less, other than Seligman’s slip from his asexual pedestal, revealing himself despite his ostensible erudition to be just as simplistic as everyone else. I always like von Trier’s stories, his direction and his choice of music for this movie was lovely (both the cello pieces and the credits music, a cover of Jimi’s Hey Joe). Recommended, but the director’s cut is long and you’re in for a possibly scary ride.

It Follows (2014) — 7/10

This is a thriller/horror movie about a monster that follows the object of its obsession—a victim that has to have sex in order to ward it off. The premise is simple: the monster follows you until you “tag” someone else, then it follows that person. If it catches you, you die, and then it starts to follow the previous person in the chain. It is slow but relentless. The monster inhabits random bodies and shuffles shambolically toward its victims, the slowness stretching out the delicious terror.

You can buy time, but you can’t get away. And only victims can see the bodies the monster inhabits. Because it’s so slow, it lulls you into a false sense of security and, because no-one else can see it, you think your friends are watching out for you but you forget that they can’t see it. Shooting doesn’t help and it changes shape as it needs, big guys to kick holes in doors, little guys to crawl through the hole.

This is a well-shot and scary film, with open windows at night and well-placed mirrors and effective use of music. They really make you feel how helpless you would be in the face of such a relentless attacker. It’s a horror movie that knows its tropes and makes a whole new experience out of them. It’s hard to figure out when this movie is set: the furniture in her house is 70s-80s and the TV is black and white, her phone has a cord on it, no-one has a cell phone, she gets a plaster cast after the car accident, there are typewriters and CRT TVs, etc.

This movie actually dovetails nicely with just having watched Nymphomaniac because that’s what she must become to get rid of the monster: she passes it on to a friend, who is killed, then sees a random group of boys on a boat and we see her take off her clothes to swim out in her underwear. Although we could always see the monster throughout the movie, we can no longer see it in the finale, which makes it all the more exciting. The scene in the pool is nicely filmed. I love that the girl at the end reads Dostoyevsky from an e-reader shaped like a pink seashell compact. Recommended.


[1] Which I have since learned is detailed in the gospels. I thought that the controversy associated with the film was that Jesus could at all, as a mortal, be tempted off the path of savior. But the controversy in America was, predictably, nudity and sex. Sigh.
[2] This reminded me a bit of José Saramago’s descriptions of blind navigation in his novel Blindness, recently read. The movie’s in my queue.
[3] h/t to CJ, you irreverent SOB
[4] Of course, Edgar Allen Poe gets a lot of the credit for absolutely marvelous prose.
[5] I cannot speak to the realism of this scene, but I wonder how it compares to 50 Shades of Gray, which was chastised as being ludicrous in its depiction of S&M? The article, Jamie Bell: ‘I hadn’t said hello to Charlotte Gainsbourg before I started hitting her in the face’ (The Guardian) provides more insight and it’s remarkable what a great job he did considering how the whole process worked. Perhaps because of how the process worked. The article says that Bell had ““lots of help” on the set from bondage, domination, sadism and masochism [BDSM] professionals” and that he’d “hung out in a friend’s LA sex shop, getting a feel for the clientèle.”.
[6] What’s up with the camera reflected in the mirror? Clearly deliberate.
[7] Though there’s a lot in this movie that’s not for the weak-willed, the home abortion stands out as a reason to skip the director’s cut. I can only imagine that this is definitely at least one of the parts that was omitted in the theatrical release (if there even was one?) I stand corrected, apparently, the abortion itself made it in, but the ensuing discussion (transcribed above) was elided. It gets a bit boring having the world exceed your pessimistic expectations.